The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Rose Jaji, an APN alumnus (Individual Research Grant 2017) and senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. The interview was conducted at the APN’s Training Workshop on Research Methods held in Accra, Ghana in June 2017. It has been edited for length and clarity.
APN: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the project you’ll be working on?
Rose Jaji: I’m currently working as a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. I studied in Germany for my PhD focusing on refugees in Nairobi, Kenya before I went back to Zimbabwe.
And what is your APN-supported project going to be looking at?
I’m looking at inter-gender cooperation in proactive peacebuilding in Zimbabwe. Basically, my interest is in understanding why Zimbabwe continues to be in this state where we are not at war, despite all the ingredients for war being present in the country. So, I’m asking questions about why this has been the case and why the country seems to deviate from the norm when you look at Africa. This is a continent where conflicts are often resolved through violence. We haven’t seen that happening in Zimbabwe. I’m looking at various organizations that are involved in peacebuilding, acknowledging that just because Zimbabwe is not at war does not mean that there is peace—or positive peace—in the country. It is a situation characterized by negative peace. However, at the same time, I would think that is a better environment for working toward peacebuilding than an environment where you have violence and no one is really paying attention to the idea of peace.
In this project, I am mainly focusing on gender. Specifically, the construction and exercise of masculinities and femininities in Zimbabwe. Regarding masculinity, when I look at what passes for hegemonic masculinity in contexts where there are political problems, usually people think it has to be violent, it has to be assertive in physical ways as well. But what we see in Zimbabwe is masculinity which is the opposite of that—a masculinity which emphasizes peace. Even when I look at political activists, the message is very clear—we want political change, but we don’t want violence: So, let’s all work toward peaceful change. There is an understanding that we need peace in the country; that if we engage in violence, we are likely to create more problems for the country and we may not be able to solve these problems anytime soon, so we better not go there.
How did you first become interested in that or what inspired you to start writing about the construction and exercise of masculinities and femininities in Zimbabwe?
My doctoral thesis was on refugees, whose situation is a direct outcome of violent conflict. So, I was really concerned—yes, it is academic research, but at the same time, you can’t deny that you are also a human being. It upsets you to meet these people—to hear their stories, their experiences, what they’ve lost. Many refugees say “if there’s peace in our country, we want to go back to rebuild our country and our lives.” If you look at Africa, many countries in Africa don’t want refugees to integrate because of economic, social, and political reasons. So they usually put them in refugee camps. For them, that is more like waiting. If you look at Somali refugees, they have waited for more than two decades. Who knows how long they’re going to wait? After 30 years, you’re still in Kenya, or some other refugee camp elsewhere in Africa.
As much as people may say that these kinds of situations can only be resolved if you get rid of whichever government exists at the present moment, I really think the idea of getting rid of it—in terms of engaging in violence—will result in more refugees in the region and also across Africa because people will disperse throughout the continent and beyond. So I decided, perhaps Zimbabwe can provide insights in terms of how you can start building peace before you reach a point where you have violence and produce refugees. So, why not try to contain the situation before it escalates and gets out of control, creating refugees and destroying the country in the process?
So, I connect my research with refugees to peacebuilding research. When you have peace, yes, you may have environmental refugees, etc., but it’s different from political refugees, so I would like to make a contribution by saying, let’s have proactive peace, which is my key concept: that you start building peace before you have this escalation that can get out of control. Many people tend to think that peacebuilding is a linear process. You start with a conflict, which is perhaps preceded by peace, but then you have conflict and then you have escalation. Then the conflict ends and people say, “let’s start peacebuilding.” So, “post-conflict,” that’s one word they use. And I’m thinking, “you can start building peace during that conflict.” You don’t have to wait until it has ended; how is it going to end? So, peacebuilding in itself is part of ending conflicts. You don’t have to have phases or stages where you say “This is the conflict stage and the next stage is when we build peace.” Build peace as you try to resolve the conflict through peaceful means. So, by saying no to violence, I think that’s actually part of peacebuilding.
I think that’s all excellent research and the APN is looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. How did you first hear about the APN?
I have a colleague from Kenya named Duncan Omanga. We studied together at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. That’s where we both did our PhDs. So, it happened that last year I was on contact leave, so I contacted him and said: “are you able to host me to your university in Kenya?” And he said, “Yes, we can host you.” So, I went to Kenya for one month and it was during that period during my leave in Kenya that he told me about the APN since he was a former grantee.
Yes, Duncan was one of our 2014 Individual Research Grant recipients. And, how did you feel about your first training workshop? What is your perception of the cohort and the workshop so far?
I must say that I found the workshop really engaging and it’s always good to interact with other people. You engage with fellow grantees, you get to learn about what they are doing, you also get to hear their ideas. We also had people with experience; people that gave the lectures, the professors, and former grantees were also there. It was really good to hear them talk and I learned from what they had to say. In terms of the practical aspects of doing research, sometimes you read about research methods and you think it’s going to be clean—they’re all sanitized. Then you get out into the field and you realize it’s more than that, it’s more than your research methods. For example, the whole idea of reflexivity. Of course, I started looking at that, reflecting on my research, especially when I did my doctoral fieldwork. It took me years to really think about how I really did that research and then finally I sat down and wrote about it in a paper that focuses on reflexivity and ethnography. Those issues were tackled at the workshop. The issues of ethics as well—very interesting questions and positions. I teach qualitative research methodology, so I remember every year when I teach the course, we have this debate on ethics: the issue of payment, the issue of informed consent, and all these kinds of issues. And I’m happy they were addressed here. So, you get a better perspective on how exactly to deal with ethical situations that unfold in the field.
So it seems like that was helpful for you as a researcher and lecturer teaching undergraduates and postgraduate students.
Yes, when you meet other people and you listen to their views it enriches your own understanding of research methods. How are other researchers, both grantees and the senior researchers represented here dealing with the same issues when they are conducting research? So you begin to reflect on all these issues, and yes, it contributes not only to how I conduct research but also to how I teach research methodology.
And as you embark in your six-month research project, how are you feeling? Are you feeling prepared, excited?
I would say it’s a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and also some trepidation because you don’t exactly control what happens in the field. You go out there with assumptions but there’s an interface between you and the people that you want to research. And in the case of Zimbabwe, looking specifically at this topic that I’m working on, I am thinking about research ethics—especially the need to make sure that I protect respondents or research participants. It is a difficult environment where people are really concerned and often ask “Who are you? Where are you coming from? Why do you want to know this?” So even if you say “I’m a researcher,” they still have these questions. “Can we trust you? Why are you coming to us? Why did you choose us?” I have to be prepared for all these kinds of things.
For some of the organizations, I think it’s not going to be very difficult because I have contacts there. So, hopefully, I can use snowball sampling because when you access respondents that way there tends to be some level of trust. They know where you are coming from since they trust those people. But I am hoping I will enjoy the research and that I will find people that are interested in participating. I’m not worried that I won’t be able to find someone to talk to, I’m just a bit concerned about how to navigate the whole process. I’m hoping to use my previous experience of doing research in a foreign country to also help me do research in my own country where I do understand the cultural issues in terms of gender, in terms of class, in terms of even the politics in the country and its implications for research of this nature.
Thank you for making time to speak with us.
Rose Jaji is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Bayreuth University, Germany, as well as a BSc in Sociology and an MSc in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the University of Zimbabwe. Her doctoral thesis focused on “Refugee Women and the Experiences of Local Integration in Nairobi, Kenya.” Her research areas of interest are migration/refugees, peace and conflict studies, identity, belonging, citizenship, and gender. She has published on refugee masculinities and femininities, refugee containment, refugee hosting and identity, asylum seekers, and border crossing. Her current research is on return migration and peacebuilding in Zimbabwe.